This post is inspired by a conversation I had with friends over the weekend: Inflammation. For years, I did not understand what that word meant. And I also strongly thought that I am not impacted by it. Well – I could have not been more WRONG.
Because also for years you could not touch my upper arms. The slightest touch would mean that I would scream and tell you that they were in pain. If you accidentally brushed against me and it was not just a light touch I have also burst into tears a time or two. My husband always deemed me as “extremely sensitive”. Until the day I went on an Ayurvedic retreat and was told that I have inflammation in my arms. Next to other forms of treatment, they tried to massage it out of me. I cannot tell you the agony and pain that caused (serious crying on my part). But – the more I changed my diet and the healthier I was eating, the less this was an issue. Nowadays, I do not have any pain, unless I am eating too many processed foods.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is basically your body’s defense mechanism to injury. So, if you are in an “injured” state (which can include injury, infection, hormonal imbalance, or irritation caused by toxins of food allergies on your digestive tract) your body starts to defend said injury in order to start healing itself. In the beginning, this may mean signs of swelling, redness, heat, or even loss of function. Any sign of acute injury (I will use injury unanimously for all four states mentioned above) should start to get better and be residing latest by day 5. Just to reiterate – inflammation in itself is not a bad thing, but very much a needed emergency defense mechanism from our immune system against damage that is caused to our cells. If our body is not able to repair the injury, we may become chronically inflamed. This is the state that we want to avoid.
Why Should We Care That Our Bodies May Be Chronically Inflamed?
If the body does not manage to repair itself and overcome an injury, we may become chronically inflamed. Unfortunately, there has now been enough research conducted to know that inflammation is the root cause of many illnesses. The most obvious ones are the ones ending in “itis”, so e.g. colitis, arthritis, gastritis, dermatitis, etc. However, inflammation may also play a huge role in heart disease, in the development and spreading of cancer, skin disorders, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s (basically an inflammation of the brain). Not everyone feels the inflammation like I did, but that may not mean that we are not chronically inflamed. One in two people over the age of 40 is now chronically inflamed. One in five people suffers from arthritis and one in five people also suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Those are pretty staggering statistics to me!!
How Can We Combat Chronic Inflammation?
What I do find amazing about this is that we can combat chronic inflammation with anti-inflammatory nutrition. Nutrition, in the first instance, will ensure that any linings in the gut are healed (if your digestive tract has microtears we are literally oozing waste into our bloodstream). This will, in turn, switch off the inflammation markers in your body and allow the body to heal. A happier, healthier gut, will also at the same time mean a happier brain. This should help to heal any emotional scarring that the chronic inflammation may have caused. When those two things are starting to become better, the final root cause can be addressed, through e.g. physiotherapy.
What Should I Eat On An Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The best thing you can do for your body is to eat as many whole foods as possible (and this is really independent of any dietary lifestyle). For an anti-inflammatory approach, it is great to eat a variety of vegetables and fruit, oily fish (such as tuna and salmon), beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and olives. Greens are a particular superstar here, as they are a super anti-inflammatory nutrient. One vegetable that possibly people rarely think of but that is also a star in this regard are artichokes. Artichokes are a liver tonic and can heal ulcers in our stomach lining. They also help to balance hormones – so they are an allrounder for any type of injury you may be experiencing. Cruciferous plants, such as cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, kohlrabi, kale, Brussel sprouts, etc. are great as they help with hormonal imbalance. Avocado deserves a special mentioning, as they help to heal your hormonal imbalance and are a good source of saturated fat.
What Foods Should I Try To Avoid On An Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
The two biggest culprits are industrialized sugar and white flour, which oftentimes equals heavily processed foods (my culprit from above). White flour unfortunately is already broken down by enzymes in your mouth into sugar. Sugar can crazily spike your insulin levels and causes inflammation in the body. Additionally, gluten, which is an integral part of flour also causes microtears in the gut. Said microtears that we are trying to heal in the first place in order to get rid of the inflammation (!!). I also speak more about this in my blog post about What is Gluten.
Deep-fried foods can also be challenging on the body. The original composition of the oil is compromised through the high heat it has been exposed to. The heating changes the chemical structure of the oil. This structure does not get recognized in our bodies and may clog up our cells. If your health is challenged, dairy could also be a struggle for you, as it can further cause inflammation in the body.
Wait – What About Medication?
There is something called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs are meant to temporarily relieve you from pain and inflammation. They do this by blocking chemicals that are associated with said pain and inflammation. Longer-term use of these drugs may not only cause an allergic reaction but can also increase risks of heart disease and stroke, as well as skin irritations. Of course, there are forms of illness and inflammation that require medication longer-term (no one deserves to be in pain!!). This is a discussion for each of us individually with our health care professionals. I just wanted to mention it, as Ibuprofen, for example, is also an NSAID and does not need a prescription in most countries. If you do suffer, perhaps a change in your nutrition may help in easing your pain 🙏🏻💕.
Where Can I Go From Here?
As always, please take away what serves you and leave what does not. Also, please do not feel overwhelmed by the information provided. The really positive message is that we can support ourselves through what we are eating. I find it fascinating how much nutrition can be a healer, a reverser of health markers, and a supporter in our “healthier” endeavors. Whatever that means and how it defines itself for each and every one of us. We absolutely can support our health and we do not need any outside support on this. That in itself is very powerful 💚. Continue to try and eat the rainbow in terms of veggies, also getting in a variety of fruit, healthy fats, and legumes, beans, etc. Learn to listen to your body and it will tell you what causes it upset.
P.S. All of the recipes on my blog follow a whole food approach and contain loads of colorful veggies. They also all both gluten- and refined sugar-free. I have included a few delicious options as inspiration for this week’s post.